The Mean Green STEM Machine: Teaching Cleveland’s youth

When you think of a scientist, you probably imagine an adult with established research, years of experience and a lab coat. You’re probably less inclined to picture an eleven year old at their local library in their school clothes. 

When the staff of the Cleveland Public Library (CPL) noticed that it was a frequent place for kids to congregate after school, they saw an opportunity to engage the kids in STEM activities. This idea led to the Mean Green STEM Machine program to widen young students’ interactions with science.

CWRU becomes involved
Launched in 2013, the CPL initially funded the program but realized that they were in need of STEM activities that would apply to the attending students’ age ranges.

They reached out to Ina Martin, science director of the MORE Center, and James Bader (left), executive director of the Leonard Gelfand STEM Center. Since 2015, the Gelfand Center has funded as well as provided presenters, while the Fulton staff provides library space and recruits students.

Focus on student needs
The year-to-year activities and experiments are dependent on the students that participate. 

“If a cohort of 4th graders comes back to the program as 5th graders, we will roll out a whole new set of activities,” said Bader. “If a new cohort of 4th graders participates, we usually repeat a few activities while incorporating new ones to keep the program fresh.”

With the main goal of exposing young students to as many STEM disciplines as possible, the program exemplifies CWRU’s aim to incorporate community service into its initiatives. Students have come from organizations and schools like the Salvation Army, Bridge Avenue Schools, and currently, the Garden Christian Academy. 

“The program is one of the longest running community programs in our portfolio,” said Bader. “It fits our philosophy of intensive, sustained interactions with smaller numbers of participants rather than short, one-off interactions with large groups of people.”

One of the additional benefits has been that CWRU undergraduates are gaining valuable experience assisting and mentoring the children through the Gelfand Fellows program.

Perhaps the largest indicator of success is shown by the children themselves. Recent cohort students were asked to draw a scientist. The pictures showed the Mean Green STEM Machine’s impact, revealing greater complexity and diversity of both the scientists and the activities they were involved with. From this, future scientists from the Cleveland community appear to be in the making.